When I was a little girl, I hated writing “Thank You” notes to my grandmother. First, because she always got me “practical” gifts — the one that sticks out the most is a pair of flannel pajamas that were about five sizes too big (that I could ‘grow into’). But more so because she would correct all my spelling or grammatical errors and send my note back to me. That sounds pretty mean, I guess, to do to an 8 year old (the first time I can remember). After a few of those, however, I made sure that I didn’t just dash off some sloppy note that said:
Dear Grandma C:
Thank you for the _______ (insert name of gift that I really didn’t like here). I also got ______ (gift I liked better) from _____ (Grandma R).
Once you see the context to my grandmother’s response, it doesn’t seem nearly so mean, does it? Perhaps my school teacher grandmother could see what I really was saying:
My mother is making me write you this thank you note, even though she doesn’t like you very much. My other grandmother (her mother) sent me something I really like. Maybe you will take the hint and stop sending me size extra huge pajamas!
So many of us in the wine blogging and writing business have come to expect a certain treatment when we visit a winery, because we hold the “power” to affect their reputation. That is unfortunate, because if not for the hard work of the winemaker, the vineyard director, the tasting room staff, the marketing and PR folks, and the risk of the winery owners to open themselves up to criticism, as well as the financial undertaking that goes with a winery, we couldn’t write about wine.
That may sound a little hokey, especially to those who see their jobs as a consumer advocates or pure-journalists that “report” the news. But I see a difference. We’re not “news reporters” when invited into a winery, or someone sends us samples. A news reporter does research independent of the invitation. He purchases his own wine, as a consumer. She pays the tasting room fees, and doesn’t expect anything for free. He gets the same access as would any other person who either made an appointment, or walked into a tasting room during its normal operating hours. We tend to get quite a bit more.
Likewise, sometimes a winery doesn’t see a visitor as a gift. Some of them even act as if they’re doing the person a favor just to allow you to be in their presence or taste their wines. They’ve lost the art of being gracious.
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French gracieus, from Latin gratiosus enjoying favor, agreeable, from gratia
Date: 14th century
1 a: obsolete : godly b: archaic : pleasing, acceptable
2 a: marked by kindness and courtesy <a gracious host> b: graceful c: marked by tact and delicacy : urbane d: characterized by charm, good taste, generosity of spirit, and the tasteful leisure of wealth and good breeding <gracious living>
3: merciful, compassionate — used conventionally of royalty and high nobility
~ from the Meriam-Webster On-line Dictionary
We enjoyed a range of varying experiences with wineries as a result of attending the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference. Some, like our visit to HALL wines after the conference, or to Twisted Oak pre-WBC went over the top. That’s because these wineries and their owners seem to “get it” when it comes to building relationships. They treat us like valued clients and customers, because in many ways we are. That’s why 15 or so of us made the 3-hour trip to Murphys, and stayed at our own expense, to visit with Twisted Oak’s “El Jefe” Jeff Shai (we, for the second time this year)! That’s why others stayed over an extra couple days, at our own expense (albeit a discounted rate) at the serenely beautiful La Residence, to spend an entire day learning more about HALL wines.
I don’t believe it was only because we were Wine Bloggers that these particular wineries went the extra mile. From what we can tell they do the same with all their clients and visitors. When we toured some of the other guest rooms at La Residence, I saw envelopes with the same handwriting on them as the gracious handwritten personalized note waiting for me in our room, when we checked in. As does Bedrock Wine Company’s Morgan Twain-Peterson, who sent handwritten “thank you” notes to those who ordered wines from his initial releases. And Robert Sobon, who treated us to a lunch he prepared himself when we visited Shenandoah Vineyards and Sobon Estate.
We can say we have met and tasted wine with a United States Ambassador. But we did so with a number of other ambassadors as well. Those who are successful ambassadors for their wineries make all their visitors feel valued — be it the wine blogger, the giver of a $2,100 Napa Valley Romance package, the wine club member, the single-bottle buyer, or the couple that makes a visit to the tasting room but doesn’t make a purchase. They appreciate every opportunity to tell their story as “a gift,” and are gracious in their receipt.
We look forward to the coming years as more wineries not only wholly embrace social media, but re-discover graciousness when it comes to acknowledging every gift!
~Amy Corron Power,